March 21, 2011 at 7:39 PM ET
Nintendo has discovered the key to melting even the coldest of human hearts: virtual puppies and kittens.
But these aren't just any virtual puppies and kittens — these are fluffy, big-eyed digital creatures that look as if they could wiggle-waggle their way right into the real world and give you a wet lick right across the face.
Yeeeuck. But also ... awwww.
The "Nintendogs + Cats" pet simulation game launches Sunday, March 27, as the Nintendo 3DS game machine arrives on American shelves for the first time. The Nintendo 3DS is, of course, the first game machine to let people play games in 3-D without the need for funky glasses. And while I remain somewhat skeptical about the whole 3-D thing (does it really make gaming better? ... I just don't know), "Nintendogs + Cats" certainly turns the 3-D charm up to 11 and makes a valiant stab at converting me.
"Nintendogs + Cats" is a follow-up to the hit 2005 game "Nintendogs." And there's much that will feel familiar to those who enjoyed adopting, training and tending to their own faux animals the first time around. But the new game definitely comes with a plethora of bells, whistles and wows thanks to its new home on the 3DS.
As before, you begin the game by selecting a dog to adopt. But with the 3DS's 3-D slider turned up for full effect, your pup will look far less virtual and far more real than ever before. Go on ... reach out and pet its soft fur. You know you want to.
When you take your pet to your virtual home, you can let him romp around the room and watch as he moves deeper into the background to chase a ball or chew on a bone you've tossed. Or perhaps watch him romp right up to you, plant his feet on the screen and swipe his little pink tongue at you. These pups look so crisp and touchable ... you can practically feel the slobber running down your cheek.
I selected a female Maltese that I promptly named "Conan." And thanks to the machine's microphone, once I spoke her name, it was imbedded in her memory (and in my 3DS' memory), and she now comes to me when I call her.
Using voice commands and the touch screen, you can teach your pet to do a number of tricks — lay down, roll over and play dead among others. The camera and some facial recognition programming also allows the pup to recognize you, its owner, and respond with appropriate happiness when your mug comes into frame.
Meanwhile, the 3DS comes with a built-in pedometer which enables you to take your digital doggie for a real walk. Simply put the game into pedometer mode, then close the 3DS and go for a stroll. The 3DS will measure how many steps you've taken and bring your dog along with you. By that I mean, simply open the lid back up and you'll see that your dog has progressed down a pathway and has probably found a gift for your along the way.
But probably the niftiest trick this game has up its sleeve is its use of augmented reality. That is, you can use the Augmented Reality cards that come packaged with the 3DS to bring your digital pup right into your own real world.
Well, sort of.
Set an AR card on the floor, point your 3DS at the card and — voila — your adopted dog seems to appear right there on the floor beside you. It is a fun touch that's sure to elicit squeals of delight from kids who give it a try.
As I said, there's a lot that will feel familiar from the first "Nintendogs" game. You'll use your new device to feed and care for your pet — don't forget to brush it and wash it. You can head out to a virtual store to buy toys for dog as well as some ridiculous clothing items. Even without the pedometer mode turned on, you can take your pup on walks — but don't forget to pick up the poop your pooch leaves behind. (Yes, even in virtual reality, doggy poo remains a reality.)
Meanwhile, there are a variety of competitions you and your dog can enter for cash rewards. There's a Frisbee competition, a lure-chasing competition and an obedience competition. The obedience competition stands out since it has you use the aforementioned Augmented Reality cards to challenge your pet to perform tricks in your own real environment.
If you do well in the competitions, over time you can earn enough money to buy a second pet. And you can pick from a variety of kittens to add some diversity into your growing zoo.
All in all, "Nintendogs + Cats" acts as an entirely laid-back way to get you accustomed to your new 3DS machine and its features — the 3-D visual effects, the augmented reality, the pedometer. And for anyone who is, say, allergic to dogs and cats but yearns for some fluffy companionship — this game has just the critter for you.
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